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Which Way Is Left?

In spite of what some of the more extreme elements of the American conservative political spectrum would have people think, Canada is not and has never been a socialist country. The policies of the welfare state that we implement to this day that might give this impression to some people are merely pale imitations of what is considered the norm throughout Europe.

Universal health care, and other programs are not thought of in most parts of the world as the first sign of an out break of communism. In fact Canada has never had a socialist party form its federal government, and there has only ever been one socialist premier of the biggest industrial province, Ontario, in its history.

The three provinces that have had regular left leaning governments in the form of the New Democratic Party (N.D.P.), Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Manitoba, are as likely to elect a Conservative Party government as they are the N.D.P. Even the N.D.P. are a far stretch from what anybody would call socialist anymore; think Tony Blair's pragmatic progressiveness as envisioned by New Labour but with a bit more of a social conscience and you'll get a fairly good idea where they stand.

As anybody who has read anything I have written politically should be able to guess when it comes to politics my inclination would be to vote for the N.D.P. I should say that I come by that honestly as my mother and father were both active members of the N.D.P. and its predecessor for most of their adult lives. My father's involvement ended with his death, but my mother's has come about due to feelings of disillusionment over the direction the party, and unfortunately a lot of the left are heading in, regarding their attitudes towards the Middle East and Israel.

It was this fall after the N.D.P.'s national convention that she phoned me angry and upset over a statement the party had agreed to endorse condemning Israel's invasion of Lebanon earlier this year. What bothered my mother about the statement was that there was no word of condemnation directed at either Hezbollah or any of the other terrorist groups who carry out routine attacks against Israeli citizens through suicide bombs or random mortar rounds fired into border towns.

My mother's family is Jewish, but her own history, including her time as a child in her parent's home, has never included religion as an important feature. She refers to her Judaism as her history not her faith, meaning, as far as I can tell, that it defines her cultural place in the world, but not what she believes in.

In our phone conversation she brought up the matter of Judaism and wondered aloud how much a part that was playing in her reaction, although in the past she has never let it stop her from being critical of Israel. But it was something about the way in which the communiqué was worded that felt if not intentionally anti-Semitic, at least being far too specific in its singling out of Jewish people for criticism.

Why did the N.D.P. feel compelled to only blame one side in a conflict where there have been a myriad of circumstances over the years that have precipitated actions and reactions from all sides of the border? It's more than just the N.D.P. of course, it seems to be a prevalent attitude among the left these days that only Israel can be to blame for what happens in the Middle East. Terrorist groups or states that have the avowed aim of driving the "Jews into the sea" seem to have nothing to do with and of it.

During the course of our conversation she mentioned that she was considering not renewing her membership in the party as a protest, which she subsequently did about a week later. This had to be very difficult for her. A huge part of her history was tied up in memories of working with the people of that party for things she genuinely believed in as good and true.

Being forced by the party she had worked so hard for since she had reached legal voting age – more then fifty years ago- to give up her membership because of a policy that went against the very principles that attracted her to it in the first place must have seemed like the ultimate in betrayals. She didn't believe she has changed her principles over the years, she still believes in the same things as before, and in fact had become even more hard line on certain issues then when she was younger, yet she no longer felt welcome in the party because of who she is.

What makes it even more difficult is the fact that the N.D.P. has never been a party in power and those who have been involved with it have done so out of a genuine commitment to the ideals of social justice that it has always espoused. For the longest time it was seen as the only real alternative to either the Conservative party or the Liberals who were fairly much politically interchangeable in spite of their appellants.

It has only been recently that the split between the two major parties along ideological lines has become obvious giving people a distinct choice at the polls without having to look for a third alternative. Middle of the road small "l" liberals can now vote for the Liberal party in sort of good conscience because they are not voting for the extreme social conservatism of the Conservative party.

The business community doesn't really care which one wins because they are equally fiscally conservative, although ironically the Liberals are looked upon more favourably by the business elite because of their Old Boy associations, while the current crop of Conservatives are unknowns to the moneyed classes of Ontario.

This means the N.D.P. have been left scrambling to try and find a way to broaden their appeal across the left, now that they can no longer count on the being able to tar the other two with the same brush as effectively. Instead of holding true to their principles and affecting change whenever possible by being the party of the social conscience, they seem to be pandering to whatever trend that will garner them votes in the short term.

But where does this leave people like my mother (and me for that matter) who can't stomach the results of this catering to special interests at the expense of ideological integrity. While the left gets all heated up with moral outrage over the "war crimes" of George Bush and Israel they are spending an almost equal amount of energy figuring out ways of justifying the actions of people who show no more qualms about blowing up women and children as either of the former.

Hypocrisy works both ways folks; sure the right wing are hypocrites for condoning the bombing of Baghdad and other violent acts in support of what they believe in while condemning those which oppose them, but so is anyone who condones violence from those they approve of while condemning it from those who aren't in style anymore.

A terrorist is a terrorist whether he or she are a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Irish, or other nationality or religion that feels the need to blow somebody up to make the world a better place for imposing their point of view. Violence is the lazy person's answer to communication and conflict resolution, and to condone one group is to condone them all. If there is a quicker way to flush the world down the toilet it's going to be pretty hard to find.

Thankfully people like my mother are not as isolated in their opinions as she first thought, and there is a growing disquiet among the left over the direction things are going within political parties and organizations. Over in England a group referring to itself as a democratic progressive alliance and welcoming people of all political stripes, have come up with The Euston Manifesto as on outline of an alternative political philosophy in response to the types of concerns that have been expressed here.

I've not had time enough to study it thoroughly to either endorse it or not, but I offer it as an example of how people with a social conscience are looking to redefine what has commonly been referred to as the left. While on first glance some of it smacks of the wishy-washy attitudes of Tony Blair's New Labour, there are also elements that were very appealing: no justification of terrorism and an even handed approach to the condemning and condoning of actions for example.

In an increasingly polarized world where far too many people see things in terms of my way or no way, it should be obvious that offering an alternative that is only a variation on that theme is not the answer. As the traditional homes for people who believe in social justice seem to be becoming as alien to them as their political opposites they are moving to shape new responses to the issues that concern them.

With groups like that behind the Euston Manifesto, and others around the world like Alternatives To Violence trying to enact change in a real and personal way, there is reason to think that the "left" might actually reinvent itself back to being what it was in the first place: a voice of hope and reason in a world where those items are in very short supply.

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